In this Olympic year, Metro Transit is delivering an outstanding performance and setting records of its own.

Verdis Group is all about leveraging data to develop and measure behavior change related to sustainability. Last month I shared some insights on the rapidly increasing use of bike racks on Metro Transit buses. This month Metro generously shared data on their ridership numbers. The information reveals that more and more people are using Metro Transit buses to get around Omaha and surrounding communities. And although annual ridership is still less than half of its peak in 1980 of 9.7 million riders, that will not be the case for long as Metro Transit is hitting several milestones in 2012.

Graph showing annual total ridership for Metro Transit from 1973 (Metro's first full year of operation) to 2011. Ridership peaked in 1980 at 9.7 million riders, but has been below 4 million since 1991.

Download (.pdf): Metro Transit Ridership by Year

Milestone #1: Metro Turns 40

The reason the annual data in the graph above starts in 1973 is the because Metro was formed on July 1, 1972 (under the name “Metro Area Transit”) as a result of Nebraska Legislative Bill 1275 that enabled Omaha to create a transit authority. Thus, 1973 is the first full year of data. As Metro celebrates turning 40, it is great to see an upward trend in ridership.

Milestone #2: 12-month Ridership Surpasses 4 million

In January 2012, the rolling 12-month total ridership (ridership for the previous 12-month period) for Metro buses surpassed 4 million.

Milestone #3: Ridership Projected to Hit 4.3 million in 2012

Even more remarkable than the fact that Metro reached 4 million total riders from February 2011 to January 2012 is the fact that ridership so far in 2012 is up 8.4% over 2011, and is on pace to hit 4.3 million total riders.*  If that happens, it will also be the first calendar year Metro has provided more than 4 million rides since 1991, and it will also mean that Metro is now serving more passengers each year than Omaha’s Eppley Airfield (4.2 million in 2011).

Graph comparing monthly total ridership in 2011 (grey) to monthly totals so far in 2012 (blue). The columns show that each month's ridership 2012 has surpassed the same month's ridership in 2011. So far this year, total ridership is up 8.4% and is on pace to surpass 4.3 million total rides by the end of the year.

Download (.pdf): Metro Transit Ridership 2011 2012 Comparison

Looking Ahead

These milestones are counterarguments to the statement that is too often used around Omaha: “No one rides the bus.” Although ridership hit a slump throughout the 1990s, it has been climbing over the past decade. In fact, if ridership continues to increase at its current pace, ridership will approach 4.7 million in 2013. That would mean ridership more than doubled since 2003, and is also more than half of what it was at its 1980 peak. There are many possible factors behind the increased ridership:

Whatever the reason, it is clear that more and more people around Omaha are choosing transit to get around. So we need to stop buying into the mantra that no one rides the bus. Yes, most Omahans who have access to their own vehicle will choose to drive, and that will remain the majority form of transportation in Omaha for a long while. But if you have a choice and haven’t taken the bus lately, now is the perfect time to plan your route, find five quarters, and go find out why many people are choosing to ride on Metro.

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*This is like every resident of Omaha riding the bus 10 times this year. Coincidentally, Metro happens to sell 10-ride passes at locations across the city. : )